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Loan program helps jump-start West Allis minority, female-owned business

Posted at 6:51 PM, Mar 10, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-10 22:49:15-04

WEST ALLIS — A new West Allis business is thriving with the help of a new loan program aimed at empowering minority and female-owned businesses. The program helps new small business owners clear hurdles they may face that could deter them from pursuing their dreams.

Swaye Tea in West Allis, opened its doors last fall. They offer several homeopathic tea remedies to help with various health conditions. Shiree Bass-Henry and her wife Aisha Henry opened the business after Shiree's research into non-traditional ways to deal with her health ailments.

"The initial thought was self-care," Shiree said. "I suffer from IBS and GERD (Gastroesophageal reflux disease), which is a severe version of acid reflux. I started to research online for herbs and different foods and supplements I could take at home to correct it on my own, and that's kind of where the tea began."

Shiree's curiosity in the various types of teas available consumed her.

Tea to help with high blood pressure.

Tea for diabetes.

Tea for anxiety.

The options and combinations seemed endless. Shiree's family turned to test subjects for her new passion.

West Allis couple benefits from new business loan program

"I started making phone calls and asking, what is your issue?" Shiree said. "I learned about those things and how to fix them, whether it was with herbs, teas, or a diet change. Family and friends turned into people starting to listen. Now they're interested in the education I'm providing and the knowledge I have."

She says her family started seeing results. So, Shiree and her wife, a Navy veteran, decided they needed to bring this to as many people as possible by starting Swaye Tea.

Shiree says Swaye is a Haitian word meaning "To Heal," which is exactly what she hopes to do with her knowledge of tea. She also wanted to help make lifestyle changes for people by providing smoothies, salads, and other healthy dietary choices for people.

However, to do that, she needed some money to get things started.

"We would have had to depend on sales to generate the income to cover the cost of that," Shiree said. "Being a small business, we don't necessarily have access to thousands of dollars right off-hand when you start a business. It's not as easy as people think it is."

Shiree and her wife found Kiva Loans, a program designed to crowdsource funding for worthy small businesses at a zero percent interest rate. Companies can apply for a loan for up to $10,000 from Kiva and have up to 36 months to repay it, with no interest. It was a game-changer for Swaye Tea.

"We'd probably still be in the gathering funds phase," Shiree said. "We'd be gathering money to install the kitchen for sure."

Instead, they were selected to receive $5,500 to help install a sink in their kitchen. The sink would allow them to pass health codes so they could have a full offering of options, therefore expanding their income possibilities.

"I'll say, no matter how good your credit is, small business loans are really hard to get," Aisha said. "So that really saved us because it would have taken us another year or maybe year and a half to get the funds to even start the process on the kitchen. That process in the kitchen is really important for her. I was grateful they were able to give it to us."

But Kiva doesn't just sign over a check and let the business go on its way. They connect them with local commerce experts, so they do more than survive; they thrive.

"The money is part of it," Wendy Baumann, President and Chief Visionary Officer of the Wisconsin Women's Business Initiative Corporation (WWBIC), said. "The crowdsourcing is part of it. But also, other resources to help these businesses grow and expand."

Baumann says there are 259 active Kiva loans in Wisconsin, accounting for roughly $1.65 million. The loan program will help underserved communities, and 70% of those loans go to women and minorities own 60% of them.

"Women typically start businesses as opposed to buying existing businesses," Baumann said. "If they're looking at financing, they're a start-up. It's a little harder for a bank to say yes right away. They also work in retail, service businesses, or business to business as opposed to manufacturing businesses where you have more assets and equipment which are easier to finance."

With the help of the loan, Shiree and Aisha can continue following their dream of helping people. Their slogan is, "We can't help everyone, but we can always help someone."

Even if they can't help someone with the medicinal help of tea, the incredible amount of representation they provide can be an inspiration to many. They are a minority, female, LGBTQ, veteran, immigrant-owned business. Aisha is in the NAVY and was born in Panama.

"It makes me feel wonderful," Shiree said. "We are a representation of true America. Americans are women. They're minority. They're LGBTQ. They're immigrants. They're veterans. We are a positive representation of all of that into one. It shows others like us, it's possible."

For more information on Swaye Tea, visit their website.

Kiva Loans is a crowdsourced loan program based on donors. They accept donations of as little as $25, and the money will be repaid to you. For more information, visit Kiva's website.

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